48 Hours in Eire

17 Mar

This piece was commissioned for the Business Standard in Bombay, but due to a change in editors, fell through the cracks and did not get published. I am posting it nearly two years after it was written, in honor of St. Patrick’s Day.

***

Everything you hear about Ireland is true. It is primarily emerald-colored, with friendly folk, free-flowing Guinness and locals leaping at the chance to fiddle for you. But you won’t see it with a guidebook and set itinerary. A locally-born islander is your only way into the true heart of the land of lochs and bogs and I very conveniently happen to be related to one. My uncle, in all his wisdom, picked an Irish partner, and it is to Aunt Margaret’s aga-warmed and patchwork-quilted family home in Glenfarne village, County Leitrim, the Republic of Ireland, that we headed, 48 precious hours in hand, in the hope of ale and leprechauns.

Flying into Belfast from London’s Stanstead airport was exciting for entirely unexpected reasons. How often can you sing a song about a city while hovering 15,000 miles above it? Wouldn’t you sing Boney M as loudly as stiff upper lip decency permitted?  The three-hour drive to Southern Ireland was quick and painless. With an open border and no checks, you’re likely to notice you’ve switched countries only if your eyes are peeled. First stop, J. McHugh’s pub.

No ordinary watering hole, this. In our case, it’s all in the family. Owned and run by Aunt M’s sister and brother-in-law, generous pints of Guinness were pulled, passed around and refilled until the darned Super-ego clobbered the Id on the head and banned more drinking before lunchtime. In a village where half the homes are occupied by blood relatives, you only have to cross the street to a family fiddling performance. Celtic music came alive in a cozy kitchen containing a blue checkered table cloth and its owner with a matching apron. Much clapping and tapping was interspersed with stories about upcoming dances at the Rainbow Ballroom, a large shed that doubled up as the dancing barn where local lads and lassies meet, marry and contribute to another generation of beer-guzzling fiddlers.

Warmth must be the Irish national policy. Where else do you get offered free membership to a public library within 10 minutes of walking in to check email? Ladies and gentlemen, I have a card from the Leabharlann Chontae Liatroma (Lietrim County Library) to prove it. (And of course, all the Gaelic around the place exists only to charm the pants off you as you walk out feeling like a four-leafed clover just graced your life.) Driving toward Sligo, the nearest big town and home to Yeats’ resting place, a brief stop at the Glencar Falls and Lake provides an opportunity for photography. The deep shades of blue sky and lake, emerald grass and snowy sheep are a postcard you want to capture and mail home.

Sligo, dotted with bars, bars, more bars, Yeats’ building and, interestingly, a Poppadom Restaurant, bustled with a population grateful for the rare sunshine. You’ve brought the Indian sun, I was told. You can keep it, I smiled back. Next stop, Yeats’ grave. Or so I thought. An exciting antiques shop derailed our journey and while my uncle and aunt checked out the clocks and gramophones, I did the same with the owner (who was, praise the Lord, considerably younger than his artifacts). Beauty appreciated, we crunched into a church yard for a meeting with Ireland’s poet laureate in his “country of the heart”. Too bad he wasn’t likely to reciprocate our delight. We rounded a corner and there he was. William Butler Yeats, 1865-1939, instructing us to

“Cast a cold Eye

On Life, on Death.

Horseman, pass by.”

Recounting our first memories of his work, we chose to linger, loath to leave a man whose words had nestled in our 13-year-old hearts, but when forty-eight hours are all you have, ‘what’s next’ is a perfectly valid question.

Bundoran is a seaside town from a 1920s American movie. Craggy cliffs, dashing waves, vanilla ices, amusement park rides and seaweed baths provide a delightful alternative to modern-day foreign beaches with tanned bodies and a pounding nightlife. A stroll on the seaweed-laced beach and a steep climb up to a cliff-top later, we enjoyed the salty north Atlantic breeze that showed all the friendliness of the land with perhaps a little less warmth. In the summer, carousel music and the shouts of children will compete with the roar of the waves, but for now, in mid-May, they reign supreme.

Ireland lives in its lochs and bogs and a brief visit to both followed. Every home in the county is assigned its own plot of land on a peat bog. It is here that families come up the hill to harvest peat that will warm their homes through the year. A naturally occurring fuel, peat is an accumulation of partially decayed vegetation and is readily available and widely used in this part of the country. The harvesting process itself can be back-breaking if one isn’t used to it. Sometimes a shortage of time turns out to be a good thing! Loch MacNean appeared out of a clearing in the woods, a magical blue with picture-perfect ripples. All was calm, all was bright and I couldn’t for the life of me remember why I live in Bombay.

More family visits followed, with exclamations about how perfect the weather had been, though I noticed that didn’t stop cozy fires from roaring in their grates. Much Irish stew and many potatoes later, I hauled myself back on a flight to England. The heart, however, decided to stay. I’ll have to go looking for it sometime very soon.

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6 Responses to “48 Hours in Eire”

  1. Aunty G. March 19, 2012 at 4:22 am #

    St. Patrick must be mighty pleased
    That your fondness hasn’t ceased
    Two years you’ve bided your time
    Waited for the moment sublime
    And now our wanderlust you have teased!

  2. dipali March 24, 2012 at 8:40 pm #

    Such a heartwarming account!

  3. Orange Jammies March 26, 2012 at 10:49 pm #

    Aunty G: 🙂

    dipali: Glad you enjoyed it!

  4. Valerie April 1, 2012 at 9:45 am #

    Wonderful wonderful wonderful post. 🙂
    Makes me want to go, and that means the writing is good!

    Thanks,
    Valerie

  5. Orange Jammies June 23, 2012 at 4:33 pm #

    Valerie: Thank you, Valerie! 🙂

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  1. So Spain « Wisdom Wears Neon Pyjamas - June 21, 2012

    […] and unnecessary things, then traipsed off to do justice to The Full Irish breakfast, in honor of my aunt. Just so dinner wouldn’t feel ignored and sob in a corner, we danced, supped, and toasted the […]

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